American History X



This dark drama is not for kids.
  • Review Date: February 23, 2005
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 1998
  • Running Time: 118 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

One character, seemingly an unredeemable racist and criminal, completely cleans up his act. Others are either virtuous (but ineffective), or entirely evil.


Numerous fights and particularly brutal murders.


A prison rape and a lusty skinhead girlfriend.


Very Strong language.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Drinking and drug-dealing.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this flawed but live-wire drama of two brothers caught up in a violence-ridden SoCal skinhead lifestyle raises some important points, but the mixture of very R-rated realism (strong language, hideous violence, and frank sex) makes this a very guarded choice for anyone but older teens and up.

What's the story?

Los Angeles high-schooler named Danny Vineyard (Edward Furlong) offends his teachers and classmates by openly proclaiming his Aryan-supremacist views and praising Hitler. The black principal (Avery Brooks) tries a creative solution, making Danny write a paper examining his older brother and mentor Derek (Edward Norton), an avowed skinhead who served time for murdering a black youth in a streetfight. Just getting out of prison, Derek, thoroughly repentant about his racist past and horrified to see his brother going down the same road, cooperates with the principal trying to set Danny straight.

Is it any good?


AMERICAN HISTORY X is certainly "artier" than most movies dealing with social ills; it's a live-wire drama, not the dry, TV movie-of-the-week approach that usually arrives complete with a teacher's study guide and lab coats. Some of the cut-and-dried reasons behind racist youth gangs (lack of economic opportunity, weak adult supervision) can be fleetingly discerned here. Mostly the vibe is emotional, not intellectual, making white-power lifestyles and repugnant politics feel as attractive as rock music to angry young people, then giving the viewer a tragic fadeout to ponder over the consequences. There are times when this movie scores trying to be a strong take on a topic that leaves no audiences feeling neutral. And there are other times when you can feel the filmmakers shaking their mighty fingers at the audience, naughty, naughty. Welcome to the After-School Special of your worst nightmares.

Norton was Oscar-nominated for his role, which he carries off with frightening physicality and conviction. You believe him thoroughly as a swastika-tattooed, head-shaved fanatic, and as a humbled, wiser ex-con trying to do good instead. But the key character of Danny seems badly underwritten, as are the simplistic motivations ascribed to the pathology in the Vineyard home. A late scene laying a lot of blame on the late Mr. Vineyard in the first place seems too convenient. First-time director Tony Kaye clashed with both the film studio and actor Norton over how to handle the story and tried to take his name off the completed film.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how there are actually such things as skinhead-punk gangs who are avowedly anti-racist, and if that's any better a solution to the cycle of violence and reprisal here.

Movie details

Theatrical release date:February 24, 1998
DVD release date:January 1, 2003
Cast:Beverly D'Angelo, Edward Furlong, Edward Norton
Director:Tony Kaye
Studio:New Line
Run time:118 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:graphic violence, racism, extensive profanity, nudity, sexual situations, mature themes

This review of American History X was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Teen, 17 years old Written bydouble E April 9, 2008


Did you just give one of the most powerful movies ever made a 2/5?!?!?!?!?!? I think you did. I can't believe it. This is considered one of the greatest movies!!! 2/5!!!! It is cringingly violent, has PERVASIVE language and sex, but it's still a GREAT film. I hope you watch it again and realize that, or not. heheh.
Parent Written byRun boy run. November 2, 2012

THIS IS NOT FOR KIDS AT ALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 15 years old Written byHeroOfLight94 June 13, 2009

Must see film for teens

This movie is excellent it should be shown in schools to promote anti-racial messages and such. But, the violence and language is pretty bad byt they make the movie brutally honest in order to convey the message of needing to spread peace. Norton gives a career making performance in this film
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing


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